Annie reads in 2020

KeskusteluClub Read 2020

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Annie reads in 2020

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 17, 2020, 1:25pm

After dropping off the face of the world for most of 2019 (I am fine... things just got a bit too overwhelming outside of LT so I was hiding from most human contact), I am back.

For the people who do not know me - I grew up in Bulgaria, learnt Russian and English (and a smattering of German) in school, fell in love with the science fiction, fantasy and mystery genres and then proceeded to read pretty much anything I could get my hands on. Then in 2010 my company asked me to move and I relocated to sunny Phoenix, Arizona, USA (not that sunny this week...) and had been here ever since.

At some point in the past I discovered that comics are not just for kids - and had been reading quite a lot of them lately. Short stories and other shorter works had always had a special place in my reading. And in the last few years I had been reading more contemporary novels and works outside of my usual genres.

Let's see if I will manage to stay around this time around.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 26, 2020, 4:11pm

2020 books


1. City of the Lost by Stephen Blackmoore -- standalone (kinda)
2. Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand -- standalone
3. Robert B. Parker's Cheap Shot by Ace Atkins -- Spenser (43)
4. Софийско крими by Орлин Чочов -- Софийско крими (1)
5. The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa - standalone
6. The Divide by Alan Ayckbourn -- standalone
7. Ormeshadow by Priya Sharma -- standalone
8. Азазель by Борис Акунин -- Erast Fandorin (1)
9. Fated by Benedict Jacka -- Alex Verus (1)
10. The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz -- standalone
11. The Peaceful Valley Crime Wave by Bill Pronzini -- standalone
12. The Case of the Phantom Fortune by Erle Stanley Gardner -- Perry Mason (Book 72)
13. After the Flood by Kassandra Montag -- standalone
14. Robert B. Parker's Kickback by Ace Atkins -- Spenser (44)
15. The Pride of Chanur by C. J. Cherryh -- Chanur (1), Alliance-Union Universe: Publishing order (12)
16. Chanur's Venture by C. J. Cherryh -- Chanur (2), Alliance-Union Universe: Publishing order (13)
17. The Fallen Angel by Daniel Silva -- Gabriel Allon (12)
18. Quincannon by Bill Pronzini -- John Quincannon (1)
19. Robert B. Parker's Slow Burn by Ace Atkins -- Spenser (45)


20. The Case of the Amorous Aunt by Erle Stanley Gardner -- Perry Mason (Book 71)
21. In Plain Sight by C. J. Box -- Joe Pickett (6)
22. Robert B. Parker's Little White Lies by Ace Atkins -- Spenser (46)
23. The Snatch by Bill Pronzini -- Nameless Detective (1)
24. The Case of the Daring Divorcee by Erle Stanley Gardner -- Perry Mason (Book 74)
25. Misery Bay by Steve Hamilton -- Alex McKnight (8)
26. The Kif Strike Back by C. J. Cherryh -- Chanur (3), Alliance-Union Universe: Publishing order (14)
27. All our Yesterdays by Robert B. Parker -- standalone
28. Turn on the Heat by A. A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner) -- Cool and Lam (2)
29. No Time Like the Past by Jodi Taylor -- The Chronicles of St Mary's (5)
30. Dead Tomorrow by Peter James -- Roy Grace (5)
31. Robert B. Parker's Old Black Magic by Ace Atkins -- Spenser (47)
32. Wilderness by Robert B. Parker -- standalone
33. Quincannon's Game: Western Stories by Bill Pronzini -- John Quincannon (stories)
34. Dead Like You by Peter James -- Roy Grace (6)
35. The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton -- standalone
36. The English Girl by Daniel Silva -- Gabriel Allon (13)
37. The Vanished by Bill Pronzini -- Nameless Detective (2)
38. The Tree of Death by Marcia Muller -- Elena Oliverez (1)
39. The Case of the Troubled Trustee by Erle Stanley Gardner -- Perry Mason (Book 75)
40. Love and Glory by Robert B. Parker -- standalone
41. The Heist by Daniel Silva -- Gabriel Allon (14)
42. The Night Garden by Polly Horvath -- standalone
43. Gunman's Rhapsody by Robert B. Parker -- standalone
44. Dissolution by C. J. Sansom -- Matthew Shardlake (1)


45. Blue Heaven by C. J. Box -- standalone
46. The English Spy by Daniel Silva -- Gabriel Allon (15)
47. Cursed by Benedict Jacka -- Alex Verus (2)
48. Burgade's Crossing by Bill Pronzini -- John Quincannon (stories)
49. Storm Warning by Linda Sue Park -- The 39 Clues (9)
50. Cuckoo's Egg by C. J. Cherryh -- Alliance-Union Universe: Publishing order (15)
51. Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden -- standalone
52. Golden in Death by J. D. Robb -- In Death (50)
53. Robert B. Parker's Angel Eyes by Ace Atkins -- Spenser (48)
54. Free Fire by C. J. Box -- Joe Pickett (7)
55. Angel with the Sword by C. J. Cherryh -- Merovingen Nights (0), Alliance-Union Universe: Publishing order (16)
56. Dead Man's Grip by Peter James -- Roy Grace (7)
57. The Case of the Beautiful Beggar by Erle Stanley Gardner -- Perry Mason (Book 76)
58. Gold Comes in Bricks by A. A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner) -- Cool and Lam (3)
59. The Wandering Ghost by Martin Limón -- Sueño and Bascom (book 5)
60. The Black Widow by Daniel Silva -- Gabriel Allon (16)
61. Into the Gauntlet by Margaret Peterson Haddix -- The 39 Clues (10)
62. The Sphinx's Secret by Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe -- The Supernormal Sleuthing Service (2)
63. House of Spies by Daniel Silva -- Gabriel Allon (17)
64. Pacific Vortex! by Clive Cussler -- Dirk Pitt (1)/Dirk Pitt (6) -- chr/pub
65. Murder by the Book by Rex Stout -- Nero Wolfe (19)
66. Die a Stranger by Steve Hamilton -- Alex McKnight (9)
67. Not Dead Yet by Peter James -- Roy Grace (8)
68. Undercurrent by Bill Pronzini -- Nameless Detective (3)
69. The Siamese Twin Mystery by Ellery Queen -- Ellery Queen (7)


70. The Other Woman by Daniel Silva -- Gabriel Allon (18)
71. Blood Trail by C. J. Box -- Joe Pickett (8)
72. Edenville Owls by Robert B. Parker -- standalone
73. Singapore Sapphire by A. M. Stuart -- Harriet Gordon (1)
74. What Could Possibly Go Wrong? by Jodi Taylor -- The Chronicles of St Mary's (6)
75. Murder at the Savoy by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö -- Martin Beck (6)
76. Blood Work by Michael Connelly -- Terry McCaleb (1)
77. Vespers Rising by Rick Riordan -- The 39 Clues (11)
78. Invader by C. J. Cherryh -- Foreigner (2)
79. The Web by Jonathan Kellerman -- Alex Delaware (10)
80. The Nursing Home Murder by Ngaio Marsh -- Roderick Alleyn (3)
81. The Medusa Plot by Gordon Korman -- The 39 Clues Part 2: Cahills vs. Vespers (1); The 39 Clues (12)
82. Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon -- Commissario Brunetti (1)
83. Serpent's Tooth by Faye Kellerman -- Decker/Lazarus (10)
84. Night Passage by Robert B. Parker -- Jesse Stone (1)
85. Triple Jeopardy by Rex Stout -- Nero Wolfe (20)
86. Angels Flight by Michael Connelly -- Harry Bosch (6)
87. Prisoner's Base by Rex Stout -- Nero Wolfe (21)
88. Lies, Damned Lies, and History by Jodi Taylor -- The Chronicles of St Mary's (7)
89. Tripwire by Lee Child -- Jack Reacher (3)
90. The Boxer and the Spy by Robert B. Parker -- standalone
91. Trouble in Paradise by Robert B. Parker -- Jesse Stone (2)
92. Three Weeks to Say Goodbye by C. J. Box -- Cody Hoyt (1)
93. Taken by Benedict Jacka -- Alex Verus (3)
94. Family Honor by Robert B. Parker -- Sunny Randall (1)
95. Dead Man's Time by Peter James -- Roy Grace (9)
96. Let It Burn by Steve Hamilton -- Alex McKnight (10)


97. Mr. Kill by Martin Limón -- Sueño and Bascom (book 7)
98. Death in Ecstasy by Ngaio Marsh -- Roderick Alleyn (4)
99. Death in a Strange Country by Donna Leon -- Commissario Brunetti (2)
100. Void Moon by Michael Connelly -- Cassie Black (1)
101. The Clinic by Jonathan Kellerman -- Alex Delaware (11)
102. Death in Paradise by Robert B. Parker -- Jesse Stone (3)
103. Below Zero by C. J. Box -- Joe Pickett (9)
104. The Abominable Man by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö -- Martin Beck (7)
105. Chosen by Benedict Jacka -- Alex Verus (4)
106. Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh -- Roderick Alleyn (5)
107. Perish Twice by Robert B. Parker -- Sunny Randall (2)
108. The New Girl by Daniel Silva -- Gabriel Allon (19)
109. Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs -- Mercy Thompson (12)
110. Stone Cold by Robert B. Parker -- Jesse Stone (4)
111. Shrink Rap by Robert B. Parker -- Sunny Randall (3)


112. The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga
113. Made in Saturn by Rita Indiana
114. Ghost Money by Stephen Blackmoore -- Eric Carter (5)
115. The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste
116. The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence by Madeleine George -- Play
117. Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay
118. Death of England by Roy Williams -- Play
119. Cane by Jean Toomer
120. Watershed by Doreen Vanderstoop
121. The Ghosts of Sherwood by Carrie Vaughn
122. Jakarta by Rodrigo Márquez Tizano
123. The Disoriented by Amin Maalouf
124. After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC by Steven Mithen


125. The Caledonian Gambit by Dan Moren
126. Prehistory: A Very Short Introduction by Chris Gosden
127. Under The Cold Bright Lights by Garry Disher
128. Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins by Ian Tattersall
129. Last Tango in Cyberspace by Steven Kotler
130. Small Days and Nights by Tishani Doshi
131. Sea Change by Nancy Kress




132. And the Rest Is History by Jodi Taylor -- The Chronicles of St Mary's (8)
133. The Order by Daniel Silva -- Gabriel Allon (20)
134. Sea Change by Robert B. Parker -- Jesse Stone (5)
135. A King's Ransom by Jude Watson -- The 39 Clues Part 2: Cahills vs. Vespers (2); The 39 Clues (13)
136. Melancholy Baby by Robert B. Parker -- Sunny Randall (4)
137. The Mist by Ragnar Jónasson -- Hidden Iceland/Hulda (3)
138. The Dead of Night by Peter Lerangis -- The 39 Clues Part 2: Cahills vs. Vespers (3); The 39 Clues (14)
139. Nowhere to Run by C. J. Box -- Joe Pickett (10)
140. Want You Dead by Peter James -- Roy Grace (10)
141. Blue Screen by Robert B. Parker -- Sunny Randall (5); Jesse Stone (5.5)
142. High Profile by Robert B. Parker -- Jesse Stone (6); Sunny Randall (5.5)
143. Dead Man Running by Steve Hamilton -- Alex McKnight (11)
144. Stranger in Paradise by Robert B. Parker -- Jesse Stone (7)
145. The Golden Spiders by Rex Stout -- Nero Wolfe (21)
146. The Long and Short of It by Jodi Taylor -- The Chronicles of St Mary's (8.5 collection - from 0 to 8+)
147. Spare Change by Robert B. Parker -- Sunny Randall (6)
148. Night and Day by Robert B. Parker -- Jesse Stone (8); technically also Sunny Randall (6.5?)


149. Back of Beyond by C. J. Box -- Cody Hoyt (2)
150. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe -- African Trilogy (1)
151. Shatterproof by Roland Smith -- The 39 Clues Part 2: Cahills vs. Vespers (4); The 39 Clues (15)
152. Trust No-One by Linda Sue Park -- The 39 Clues Part 2: Cahills vs. Vespers (5); The 39 Clues (16)
153. An Argumentation of Historians by Jodi Taylor -- The Chronicles of St Mary's (9)
154. The Highway by C. J. Box -- Cody Hoyt (3), Cassie Dewell (2)
155. Day of Doom by David Baldacci -- The 39 Clues Part 2: Cahills vs. Vespers (6); The 39 Clues (17)
156. Split Image by Robert B. Parker -- Jesse Stone (9); Sunny Randall (7)
157. Robert B. Parker's Killing the Blues by Michael Brandman -- Jesse Stone (10)
158. Robert B. Parker's Fool Me Twice by Michael Brandman -- Jesse Stone (11)
159. Robert B. Parker's Damned if You Do by Michael Brandman -- Jesse Stone (12)
160. Robert B. Parker's Blind Spot by Reed Farrel Coleman -- Jesse Stone (13)
161. Paradise Valley by C. J. Box -- Cassie Dewell (3)
162. Robert B. Parker's The Devil Wins by Reed Farrel Coleman -- Jesse Stone (14)
163. You Are Dead by Peter James -- Roy Grace (11)
164. Robert B. Parker's Debt to Pay by Reed Farrel Coleman -- Jesse Stone (15)

joulukuu 31, 2019, 10:43pm

2020 shorter works

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 26, 2020, 4:36pm

Series and Authors (under construction):

Waiting for the next book (series):

- Alex McKnight by Steve Hamilton. Read 1-11
- Bosstown by Adam Abramowitz. Read 1-2.
- Gabriel Allon by Daniel Silva. Read 1-20.
- Harriet Gordon by A. M. Stuart. Read 1.
- Hollow Man by Mark Pryor. Read 1-2.
- Hugo Marston by Mark Pryor. Read 1-8.
- Michael Parson by Tom Young. Read 1-6.
- Reykjavik Wartime Mysteries by Arnaldur Indriðason. Read 1-2.
- Samuel Craddock Mysteries by Terry Shames. Read 1-8.
- Spenser by Robert B. Parker and then Ace Atkins. Read 1-48+prequel.

- Alex Benedict by Jack McDevitt. Read 1-8.
- Eric Carter by Stephen Blackmoore. Read 1-5.
- In Death by J. D. Robb. Read 1-50.
- Shadow Police by Paul Cornell. Read 1-3.
- Sorcerer Royal by Zen Cho. Read 1-2.

- The Supernormal Sleuthing Service by Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe. Read 1-2.

Catching up (series):

- Alex Delaware by Jonathan Kellerman. Read 1-11; 26-31. Next Book: 12: Survival of the Fittest and 32: Heartbreak Hotel
- Cassie Black by Michael Connelly. Read 1. Next Book: 2: The Narrows (also Harry Bosch (10), Terry McCaleb (3), Rachel Walling (2))
- Cassie Dewell by C. J. Box. Read 3. Next Book: 4: The Bitterroots
- Cool and Lam by A. A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner). Read 1-3. Next Book: 4: Spill the Jackpot
- Commissario Brunetti by Donna Leon. Read 1-2; 20-28. Next Book: 3: Dressed for Death and 29: Trace Elements
- Dark Iceland by Ragnar Jónasson. Read 1-3;5. Next Book: 4: Whiteout
- Decker/Lazarus by Faye Kellerman. Read 1-10. Next Book: 11: Jupiter's Bones
- Dirk Pitt by Clive Cussler. Read 1. Next Book: 2: The Mediterranean Caper
- Ellery Queen by Ellery Queen. Read 3;7. Next Book: 1: The Roman Hat Mystery
- Harry Bosch by Michael Connelly. Read 1-6. Next Book: 7: A Darkness More Than Night (also Terry McCaleb 2 and Jack McEvoy 2)
- Inspector Rebus by Ian Rankin. Read 1-20; Next Book: 21: Rather Be the Devil
- Jack McEvoy by Michael Connelly. Read 1; Next Book: 2: A Darkness More Than Night (also Harry Bosch 7 and Terry McCaleb 2)
- Jack Reacher by Lee Child. Read 1-3; Next Book: 4: The Visitor
- Jesse Stone by Robert B. Parker and others. Read 1-15+5.5; Next Book: 16: Robert B. Parker's The Hangman's Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman
- Joe Pickett by C. J. Box. Read 1-10; Next Book: 11: Cold Wind
- John Wells by Alex Berenson. Read 1-3; Next Book: 4: The Midnight House
- Martin Beck by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Read 1-6; Next Book: 7: The Abominable Man
- Mitch Rapp by Vince Flynn. Read 1-2; Next Book: 3: Separation of Power
- Molly Murphy Mysteries by Rhys Bowen. Read 1-4; Next Book: 5: Oh Danny Boy
- Murder Squad by Alex Grecian. Read 1-4; Next Book: 5: Lost and Gone Forever
- Nameless Detective by Bill Pronzini. Read 1-3; Next Book: 4: Blowback
- Nero Wolfe by Rex Stout. Read 1-22+40; Next Book: 23: Three Men Out
- Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton. Read 1. Next Book: 2: Exit Strategy
- Perry Mason by Erle Stanley Gardner. Read 1-77;79. Next Book: 78: The Case of the Queenly Contestant
- Rachel Walling by Michael Connelly. Read 1. Next Book: 2: The Narrows (also Harry Bosch (10), Terry McCaleb (3), Cassie Black (2))
- Roderick Alleyn by Ngaio Marsh. Read 1-5; Next Book: 6: Artists in Crime
- Roy Grace by Peter James. Read 1-11; Next Book: 12: Love You Dead
- Sueño and Bascom by Martin Limón. Read 1-7; Next Book: 8: The Joy Brigade
- Sunny Randall by Robert B. Parker. Read 1-7+5.5; Next Book: 8: Robert B. Parker's Blood Feud by Mike Lupica
- Terry McCaleb by Michael Connelly. Read 1; Next Book: 2: A Darkness More Than Night (also Harry Bosch 7 and Jack McEvoy 2)
- Tom Thorne by Mark Billingham. Read 1-13; Next Book: 14: Love Like Blood

- Alex Verus by Benedict Jacka. Read 1-4; Next Book: 5: Hidden
- Alliance-Union Universe: Publishing order by C. J. Cherryh. Read 1-16; Next Book: 17: Chanur's Homecoming
- The Chronicles of St Mary's by Jodi Taylor. Read 1-9+8.5 (collection). Next Book: 10: Hope for the Best
- Commonwealth Universe by Peter F. Hamilton. Read 0;1-6; Next Book: 7: Night Without Stars
- The Academy: Priscilla Hutchins by Jack McDevitt. Read 1; Next Book: 2: Deepsix
- Foreigner by C. J. Cherryh. Read 1-2; Next Book: 3: Inheritor
- The Hallowed War by Tim Akers. Read 1; Next Book: 2: The Iron Hound
- Luna by Ian McDonald. Read 1; Next Book: 2: Luna: Wolf Moon
- Morgaine by C. J. Cherryh. Read 1-3; Next Book: 4: Exile's Gate
- October Daye by Seanan McGuire. Read 1; Next Book: 2: A Local Habitation
- Polity Universe - Publication Order by Neal Asher. Read 1-3; Next Book: 4: Brass Man
- Quiet War by Paul McAuley. Read 1; Next Book: 2: Gardens of the Sun
- Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. Read 1-6; Next Book: 7: Lies Sleeping
- The Shadow by Lila Bowen. Read 1; Next Book: 2: Conspiracy of Ravens

- The 39 Clues by multiple. Read 1-17; Next Book: 18: Legacy by Clifford Riley

Waiting for the next book (authors):

Catching up (authors):

tammikuu 1, 2020, 3:21pm

Welcome back! I recently read a book set in Sofia and thought of you (Cleanness by Garth Greenwell).

tammikuu 1, 2020, 3:55pm

Nice to see you back, Annie!

tammikuu 1, 2020, 10:23pm

>5 RidgewayGirl: I looked at his "What Belongs to You" in the library a few times (I even checked it out once and read 50 pages or so) but something in the style just did not seem to work for me -- the language was too... "literary" I guess is the word I am looking for. Maybe I was just not in the mood. And after having lived in Sofia for 10 years, some of the details just felt a bit off - almost as if he was trying to make it sound more exotic and underplay some similarities. Which is not that uncommon when you read a book set in a place you know well I guess. I may try him again at some point - you seem to have liked that one well enough...

tammikuu 1, 2020, 10:39pm

>7 AnnieMod: Well, I've never been to Bulgaria, and even if I had, my experience would be, like the narrator of Greenwell's novels, necessarily that of an outsider, so it all worked for me. But last year I read a book set in Arizona by a British author and I thought her depiction was just terrible, so I can fully understand you noticing the things that were wrong.

tammikuu 3, 2020, 11:39pm

1. City of the Lost by Stephen Blackmoore

The first novel by Blackmore is rougher than his later series but I am happy that I read it after the Eric Carter books - despite it probably sounding better if it was read earlier so one can see his development as a writer between the novels. Technically it is not in the same sequence - but it is in the same world (kinda) and is either a prequel (with the differences maybe explained with the change of narrator) or it was the first story in the universe that was then revised for Carter. But we do get the Bruja and Darius and magical Los Angeles. And that's why I am glad I read it after the series - had I read this one first, some of the big surprises in the follow up series would have fallen flat -- who is the Bruja or Darius for example. I think that it is supposed to be its own title - and I read it as such.

But back to the book.

One day, a robbery goes horribly wrong - in a way that should not be possible. Joe Sunday's partner is dead (well... kinda) and things just do not make sense. Before long, Sunday is also dead (kinda) and then things really start getting crazy. A few more corpses (some staying dead, some not), a few femme fatale characters, some magic and a few zombie dogs and LA is about to be destroyed. And all the mayhem is for the same thing -- what the robbery was all about -- a rock. And everyone wants it - including people that are supposedly dead and ones who should not know about the world of magic. And the race is on -- with more shifts and surprises than a short novel like this one should be able to support.

Joe Sunday is not your usual likable character - he is a thug and he does not make excuses about it. So his methods do not change when he dies - if anything, he is just in a better position now - as he cannot die. Or hurt. Although there is a price for it - and even Joe seems to balk on it a bit.

It is a mix of urban fantasy and zombie horror - and it works. It is also a fascinating world, laid on top of ours that then gets developed a lot more in the Eric Carter series. But it is also very gruesome and with adult enough language to require a warning or 3 - but then Blackmoore's style is like that.

If you plan to read the Eric Carter series, don't read this one until you finish at least the first 2 or even 3 of the series books. If you do no plan to read them or if you had already read them, have fun with this one. I wish Blackmoore had left this book as a full prequel - I would have loved to see Eric and Joe together - but one cannot have everything I guess.

tammikuu 4, 2020, 6:52am

Glad you are back. Looking forward to keeping an eye on your reading. Michael read the Elizabeth Hand late last year, not sure he has reviewed it yet.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 5, 2020, 11:34pm

Welcome back! I hope 2020 is a better year for you. I enjoy your reviews and perspectives and eclectic reading selections.

tammikuu 4, 2020, 1:32pm

Happy New Year, Annie!

tammikuu 4, 2020, 5:42pm

Nice to see your posts again. Missed you. Following (as well as I can)

tammikuu 5, 2020, 5:01pm

Glad to see you back again this year! Looking forward to following along, hope you have a good year.

tammikuu 5, 2020, 5:14pm

>6 NanaCC: :) Waving back

>10 avaland: I am gathering my thoughts on it - will post soonish. It ended up being pretty good...

>11 ELiz_M: Thanks!

>12 kidzdoc: Happy New Year! :)

>13 dchaikin: Thanks Dan. Sorry for not following your reading plan last year - I was planning on it and... things got weird.

>14 valkyrdeath: Thanks

PS: If someone is curious, my reading last year is here:

I stopped posting but I was reading and recording (somewhat - there may be a few missing books). I may be adding some reviews - especially for books which continue a story from last year.

tammikuu 5, 2020, 5:33pm

I didn't really follow that aspect of my plan either last year... : )

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 6, 2020, 12:07pm

2. Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand

It is the hot summer of 1915, in the Riverview Park in Chicago - one of the entertainment parks that are getting more and more popular in the United States. Meet Pin - a girl who lost her sister two years ago and whose mother decided to do anything in order to keep her alive - including making her pretend to be a boy - and moving into the park - where a shack in a back alley turns out to be a better place than their old home.

Pin spends her days running errands - running dope between the park and the nearby movies studio, doing small favors for anyone who needs it, assisting around the park, looking for spare coins anywhere where they may be. Until one day she sees a girl disappearing - and then finds her dead. And then the horror starts - another girl dies, old deaths are connected and it starts looking as if someone she knows must be the killer.

Add to this Henry Darger (whose name I had never heard before - he is a real person whose story is as fascinating as he is here) - a weird "detective" who seems to be a bit crazy, an ex-policeman (who is used both to move the action and to show more of the Chicago undercurrents), a newspaper man and a few actors and writers and the action never stops. One of the actors is none other but Charlie Chaplin -- and for awhile, he is even involved in the crime.

Elizabeth Hand weaves her story in a way that should be confusing but instead makes sure that it leaves you guessing. Whole chapters are told from the name of a character and only in hindsight you know who that really was - and who it could not have been. Some of them are the disturbing mind images of the killer but some turn out to be as harmless as their character. Just when you think you know who must be the killer and something happens, making you doubt yourself.

Hand pulls out a historical mystery with dark overtones but manages to keep it outside of the speculative fiction genres. Her Chicago breathes and lives and makes you feel as if you were there. It is a history of early cinema and a history of Chicago; it is a love story and a murder mystery; it is a commentary of the times and a reminder of a time long gone.

As for the end? Which one exactly? The end of the book or the end of the story of 1915? Because the book does have two endings - without one of them being a weirdly stitched Epilogue - if anything, that second ending in the future feels like the bookends of Rose's story in Titanic - except it is only at the end here. Yes - it is not exactly a happy ending but then it could not have been, not in 1915.

Highly recommended if you are up for a historical mystery. Although some of the topics may be a bit hard - from the young girls to the broken psyches of men, it can be a troubling read. But it never gets too dark - there is always a ray of hope somewhere in there. With a touch of old-time legend and charm thrown in.

tammikuu 6, 2020, 12:03pm

>17 AnnieMod: This sounds interesting, Annie. I might look for it.

tammikuu 6, 2020, 1:46pm

>17 AnnieMod: You're expanding my to read list already, this sounds intriguing. The only Elizabeth Hand I've read was Wylding Hall, which I really liked, though Curious Toys sounds quite a different book.

tammikuu 6, 2020, 2:02pm

>19 valkyrdeath:

It is very different from anything else I had read from her -- although her very distinctive writing style is still there. In her post-novel note, she mentioned that she had been working on this one for decades (it is Darger that she wanted to use as a character) and her research is pretty extensive (how many novels have a few pages of non-fiction sources mentioned at the end?).

It is kinda weird - growing up in Europe, 1915 sends my mind into a totally different direction. It is the end of innocence in both cases but in one case there is a real war; in the other - it is just the human psyche. The WWI is nowhere to be seen - which is consistent with 1915 in USA. So keeping that at the back of your mind, some of the scenes get even more grotesque. Or maybe I was just overthinking it.

tammikuu 6, 2020, 2:14pm

Didn’t realize running dope was a thing in 1915 usa, or maybe I just never thought about it. I haven’t been a mystery reader, but your second book sounds fun again, and cool that she has a bibliography. And interesting, your perspective on 1915 and the still isolationist usa (>20 AnnieMod: )

tammikuu 6, 2020, 3:59pm

>17 AnnieMod: really interesting - I'm especially intrigued by your comment about working out only later who is narrating the chapter. I do like books that make me work a bit!

tammikuu 6, 2020, 4:54pm

3. Robert B. Parker's Cheap Shot by Ace Atkins

When you are 43 books into a series, surprises are not really expected - you are here to meet the same people you had grown to really like. After Parker died, I was a bit worried about the Spenser series - it relied a lot on the very distinct style of the author which pulled off even the weaker books. But I still wanted to see where the next writer will get the characters - so I just proceeded to work through the series, now written by Atkins. And the previous two installments did not disappoint. And neither did this one.

Hawk is back in town, Susan is there, Pearl makes a brief appearance. Zebulon Sixkill is still around (and almost recovered from the mess he got himself into in the last books), Quirk and Belson are around as always, the new FBI head-agent who replaced Epstein is the usual moron. We are missing some of the usual cast (Rita always makes me smile and we had not seen Lee Farrell or Paul Giacomin or most of the extended character list but we cannot get them every time I guess.

When the book opens, Spenser is hired to protect a pro-ball player - although it is not clear if it is the player that needs protection or he is asked to protect people from the player. Before long things take an ugly turn - the player's 8 years old son Akira disappears and the job changes. And off everyone goes - the state police (no Healy...), FBI, Spenser - everyone seems to be trying to do the same thing - find the child. But the kidnappers refuse to call and everyone seems to be chasing shadows. Add a second wife and the mother of the child, a somewhat checkered past of the first and some back history of the father, Gerry Broz selling fish (nope, not Gino Fish -- real fish) and some more of the rogue gallery suddenly being helpful and things start getting complicated.

When Parker introduced Z, it looked like a repetition - he is too close to Hawk as a character (minus the sleekness of the older man). Atkins chose not just to keep him but also to use him - but he had a bit of a problem - Hawk and Spenser had a third in the face of Vinnie. As last year took care of that (and I suspect that we are still to see all the repercussions), Z slid into the role which Vinnie had played in earlier books, except that Z is around a bit more. And this time, without a third character, the novel would not have worked.

If you had been reading the series so far, this novel is a good addition - it is closer to the middle novels from Spenser, more complex in the plotting than the later books (although I would argue that the seemingly simple plots are what makes this series good). In places it feels as if some of the side stories may have been dropped without harming the book. But if you have never read the series before, I would say not to start here - while you will get the basic introduction to Z, most of the older characters are not even introduced and there are so many allusions to older novels and throwaway phrases that make sense only if you had read the books that I am not sure if the novel won't feel more like a sketch than a real novel if you are not getting them.

Off to the next installment for me. :)

tammikuu 6, 2020, 10:06pm

Just dropping in to drop a star.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 7, 2020, 1:30pm

4. Софийско крими by Орлин Чочов

Title translation (from Bulgarian): Sofia Crime Novel (although the word used is a slang one and has a a bit wider meaning than crime novel allowing some ambiguity...)

The first Bulgarian private detective is trying to solve his first case in the mid-to-late nineties in Sofia- the disappearance of a teenager. That is probably the best way to describe what the book is - plot wise anyway. It also is inadequate to explain what it really is.

Yes - there is a detective. Kinda. He had had never had any cases, works as a translator to make ends meet and has no clue how to be a detective (but he had read all the American novels on the topic so he thinks he knows). And a girl needs to be found. But as is often the case, the search is a vehicle for a story - the story of Bulgaria in the late 90s. Or parts of it anyway.

The author named every character in a way that shows either their character or their occupation (or the opposite of them in a few cases - and it does matter if the name matches or not) - easy enough to do when playing with family names. And he imbued most of the characters that we see more than once with the collective characters of the groups in that time. The book is full of references and allusions and small throw backs to the times I grew up in - and it made me laugh in places that were not even close to funny.

And what makes this novel work for me also makes it untranslatable. The names probably can find their counterparts but the rest? Here is a small example. There are two words for a policeman in Bulgarian (a third one means "cop"): one derives from the Latin Militia and the second from the German Polizei. Before the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the system, the Latin-based word was used to identify the police in Bulgaria. The German-derived one was used after that, the other becoming an insult for some and a way to show that you miss the past for others. So the usage for one or the other is telling you a lot about the person talking - even more in the 90s when the novel is set than now. And that's one of the small things - there is hundreds of those references, not to mention the references to practices and actions which will need a note under the text if you have never heard of them.

It is the kind of novels that come out from a shared history - the history of the newly rich and the Yugoslavian embargo, the story of a country trying to change and getting nowhere fast (and moving too fast in some places). It is all the collective memories of a generation condensed into a story - and as such it is exactly what I was looking for when I picked up the book.

tammikuu 8, 2020, 7:31pm

5. The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

On an unnamed island things keep disappearing. But they do not just disappear - the memories for them also disappear as if the things never existed. And this had been going for a very long time. Some people are immune to the forgetting - but even they cannot change anything because they are either forced into hiding or are disappeared by the Memory Police. Some objects had been gone for so long that the narrator had just heard of them (her mother was one of the people who never forgot) - things like bells and perfume; some disappear while the story we are reading is going on - like roses and birds... and novels.

That's the main premise of Ogawa's book and it did sound fascinating enough for me to try the book. We never get the names of the main characters - two of them remain unnamed and one had just an initial (we do get the names of other characters here and there) and that is also part of the story's play on memories and remembrance.

The main character is a novel writer - who lives on her own after the death of her parents. And the last story (novel technically I guess) that she writes becomes part of the story -- and it is another story of loss... and memories. And it is the novel that makes the bulk of the story here - the novel itself and the story of her editor - who turns out to still have his memories and our heroine decides to hide him. And around them the world keep disappearing - the whole world seems to disappear - when the calendars disappear, the spring never comes...

By the end of the novel, the roles will get reversed - because if everything disappeared and was never there, what remains? We never learn that - the novel finishes with the end -- but also hints at a new beginning.

It is not the kind of novels I usually read - but it never bored me. Its sparse language and the gradual disappearance of the world somehow worked well enough to make me want to read more - and the more the world on the pages shrank, the more I was thinking about the things we always take for granted. And that was the whole point of the double narration after all - with the novel inside of the novel serving as another look at the same action - one of them caused, one of them appearing natural. And finding the contrasts in what is missing in the real world compared to the imaginary one made me wonder even more - the bells had already disappeared and yet they are there in the written novel...

It is a story about memories and about the creative process of writing... which may be more connected than one thinks. And it is one of the more imaginative dystopian worlds I had read about lately.

tammikuu 9, 2020, 8:05am

Fabulous review of The Memory Police, Annie! I'll look for a copy of this novel on my bookshop travels.

tammikuu 9, 2020, 1:59pm

I've made note of Curious Toys, and yours is the second review of The Memory Police that reminds me that I want to read it.

tammikuu 9, 2020, 6:06pm

Two good reads for your comeback The Memory Police and Curious Toys Mystery and imagination

tammikuu 9, 2020, 6:30pm

>26 AnnieMod:

I knew you'd end up liking The Memory Police! It's such an engaging story. And I also just love the title of the book; Memory Police is such a striking title that immediately brings up striking imagery. Much better than the original title 密やかな結晶 which I don't know how I would translate without the actual context it comes from in the book but literally translates to A Quiet Stone.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 9, 2020, 10:10pm

>27 kidzdoc: Thanks :) It is an unusual one.

>28 RidgewayGirl: And it is not even the middle of January... oops :) Sorry about your TBR :)

>29 baswood: Yeah, I am having a good start of the year (the other 3 were fun even if none of them qualifies as great literature)

>30 lilisin: I was thinking about what you said. :) That is interesting about the title. Although it may also make some people dislike the story (or expect something else) - while the shadow of the memory police is always there, they are not really the main character in the novel - the disappearances are. But it does suit the novel. But now I am curious - what is the original title a reference to? The emerald?

tammikuu 9, 2020, 10:27pm

>31 AnnieMod:

The title referencing the emerald is the only thing I can think of. The emerald disappeared so all would be left would be the description of the stone since one can no longer name it, right? So I think that is what the Japanese title is supposed to evoke.

The Memory Police are certainly not the main character of the novel but they are so prominent that I think the English title was right to use them. Plus, as you say, it certainly suits the novel and is definitely an eye-catching title for marketing.

tammikuu 10, 2020, 7:03am

Welcome back!

Great review of The Memory Police, which I’ve put on my wishlist.

tammikuu 10, 2020, 12:43pm

Annie - fascinating about The Memory Police. How many ways this concept be applied, in analogy. In some ways it sounds like an interesting perspective on editing or rewriting. You take something out of the story and when you rewrite it you should take out all the echoes of it too as if it never existed.

tammikuu 10, 2020, 1:11pm

>32 lilisin: Yeah - this was the only stone I could think of as well (when you mentioned that there is a stone in the title in the original). :) I like looking at how titles get translated across languages, especially titles which are not straight forward to start with - they sometimes show more about the culture one translates into than actually reading books from that culture. And sometimes they just show that the publisher's marketing people are idiots (not here, just in general) :)

>33 rachbxl: Thanks :)

>34 dchaikin: I had been thinking about this book. It did not strike me earlier, but it kinda reminds me of another book I read earlier: Ella Minnow Pea (my review is here: ) in some ways - even if the disappearing there is very different, it has a very similar feel to it. Although The Memory Palace is the much better book - both as a story and at introducing the shades of forgetting and erasure.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 10, 2020, 9:49pm

>34 dchaikin: I've had that recommended to me. How surprising is that subtitle "a Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Novel"

My two-year old granddaughter said to me this week, "How surprising that is!"

tammikuu 10, 2020, 5:45pm

>36 sallypursell:

Ella Minnow Pea? Yeah :) I've forgotten that that was the subtitle... That was one of the books that annoyed be back when I read it - it would have been probably my favorite yearly read if the author had stopped after the first 2/3rd of the novel. Oh well. Still worth a read IMO.

tammikuu 10, 2020, 8:45pm

I really enjoyed The Memory Police, and the disappearances reminded me of Ella Minnow Pea too, though the tone is quite different. I find it interesting how the characters weren't named in the book, since it seems to be something Ogawa does a lot if the other books I've read by her are any indication, even though they were otherwise all very different.

tammikuu 10, 2020, 9:50pm

I meant to tell you what a good review that was, Annie.

tammikuu 12, 2020, 10:59am

>17 AnnieMod: I put a library hold on Curious Toys—it sounds like just the right distracting thing, thanks. And I have The Memory Police on my physical pile.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 13, 2020, 5:35pm

6. The Divide by Alan Ayckbourn

Years ago a plague almost wiped out humanity and left all surviving females as carriers and all males as vulnerable to it. There had never been a cure - so the only way for the world to survive was to segregate the genders - women in the south, men in the north, no contact between them. Except for the pesky problem of pro-creation but artificial insemination takes care of that and when a boy is born, he is not vulnerable until puberty (or thereabouts) so a protocol had been created to ensure that boys are protected and move to the North when their time comes. Or so everyone believed. 50 years after the fall of the Divide, the novelist Soween Clay-Flin decides to tell the story of the fall of the Divide.

Using journal entries to tell a story has one big problem - the person whose diary is used is never there for everything. So instead of trying to work around that with author notes, the novel uses multiple sources - Soween's diary, her brother's Elihu's diary and the newspaper and council notes of the time. Elihu is one of the very few boys born into the all-female society - which allows both diaries to show the world from the eyes of both growing kids. The additional articles and extracts from official documentation and correspondence add the missing pieces in a story that leads to a place noone expects.

As women are the carriers and the plague kills any man in 10 days, the new order had convinced the women that they are responsible for the fall and enforces strict rules of behavior. And somehow the women at these times accepted it -- we never learn the full story of how the Divide came to be - we get the story as taught to the kids but even there, things don't always make sense. That separation of the genders also changes the idea of what is a normal relationship -- man/woman unions lead to death so they do not exist. Until Elihu falls in love that is.

It is obvious early in the novel that something is not right (and we know that the Divide is about to fall) - there are subtle clues here and there that the kids are not taught the whole story. Just how much of it they are not taught becomes clearer and clearer in time although the actual state of the world is revealed slowly and with a lot of red herrings along the way. And the end is heart breaking - even if the (in universe) foreword makes it clear that this is not a happy love story (if someone wants to read that as Romeo and Juliet in a post-apocalypses world, they won't be far off), the end hits hard. It is partially because all the earlier misdirection - Ayckbourn weaves a tale that makes you expect things to work out at the end. And they do - although not for everyone.

I am not sure what sounded scarier - the world as we saw it from the eyes of the two growing children or the world as we finally realized it to be later in the story. I would not want to live in either.

I liked this novel a lot more than I expected. The formatting (different fonts for each element) and the setup makes it look a bit weird but after reading it, I cannot imagine it being done any other way. If I have one issue with it, it is that I wish we had seen a lot more from the pre-history and from what exactly happened around the fall - the parts we saw were limited to what happened to our characters so it was never made clear how much of what everyone was taught was really the truth. Although the hints are there and maybe a summation is not really needed.

tammikuu 13, 2020, 5:57pm

7. Ormeshadow by Priya Sharma

Somewhere out there, away from the big city of Bath, there is a land where a dragon sleeps. That's how Priya Sharma starts this novella - with the legend heard by a 7 years old boy called Gideon. His father used to be a scholar but after some not very nice experiences, he had to go back to the land where he grew up - and help run the family farm again. Except that the family is special - because once a upon a time, a great dragon called Orme chose them as her guardians.

Gideon grows up on the farm, with the legend in his mind and with an innocence which makes one wince occasionally. Until the day he loses his father. It takes a few more years for Gideon to understand what really happened in that dark night. Most of the story shows the boy growing - and exploring the land that is supposed to be his one day. It is not a happy story - it has shades of Dickens and "The Thorn Birds" (the scenes with the sheep shearing and some of the school scenes reminded me of that one a lot) - but it is not a sad story either. Yes, bad things happen. But in a way, the end is a happy one - in a very Victorian way - you get betrayal and evil - but you also get love and hope.

Are dragons real in this land? That is one of the questions which every reader needs to answer for themselves. The story leaves the question open - one can chose which version to believe. As such, the fantasy is subtle enough to almost make that a mainstream story - although I would not go there - even if the dragon was just an imaginary pet (and the end was caused by a volcano for example).

If you do not try to find the exact time where this novella can fit, it could have happened in our England. The pieces that do not fit can be explained with imagination. But if you look a bit closer, you will realize that it cannot fit - the shadows of different times seem to merge into one thus sending that into a new world.

I loved the writing style - the novella is really a series of shorter vignettes allowing the action to jump in time (and space) and draw the needed parallels. And at the end, it all boils to same old question - is gold worth it if you lose everything else?

tammikuu 13, 2020, 7:25pm

>41 AnnieMod: Is that the same Alan Ayckbourn the playwright? If so interesting that he is writing science fiction in his old age

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 13, 2020, 8:01pm

>43 baswood:

Same one - his first novel. has a history of how the novel came to be ( has more links...).

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 13, 2020, 9:17pm

8. Азазель by Борис Акунин
Translated into English as "The Winter Queen" by Boris Akunin if someone who does not read Russian wants to read it.

When I was in my late teens, I moved away from home to go to school in the country's capital. As any 18 years old, I believed I knew everything and had already decided that all I want to read is speculative fiction and thrillers. And then I met a Bookseller (the capital B is not a mistake). She listened to my explanations on why I do not read anything else and never told me that I am an idiot because of it (oh, I was...). The weeks and months (and then years) passed and we became friends (I think it happened very fast but...) - and slowly she managed to make me start looking into genres I had given up on - the classics had always had a place in my heart but I was tired of them; newer books always sounded... boring. She introduced me to authors I would not have looked at without her - Boris Akunin, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Ecco, Aleksandra Marinina, Milorad Pavić,Ivo Andrić, Dubravka Ugrešić, Diane Setterfield and so on and so on. I never gave up the books I loved (SF and thrillers will always be MY thing) but my horizon expanded exponentially in the 10 years we lived in the same city. As the years passed, the communication became two-sided - I was reading in English as well so I was recommending books to her before they were translated so when they got translated, she was looking forward to them.

Akunin wrote the 16th and last of the Fandorin books in 2018 and back then I decided it is time to read them all in order. Then as usually happens with me, the plan kinda went to the side. Until late last year when I got the worst possible news - I will never see my friend again. It made me think of all the books we shared and discussed; all the authors I would have never found without her. So... this year I will be retracing some of them.

But onto the novel.

When Akunin started his Fandorin series, he wanted to explore all the different ways to write detective fiction. So he created Erast Fandorin - a young man who just started work in the police in Moscow in 1876. Akunin had always admitted that Fandorin is a collection of standard Russian heroes - and if one had read some of the Russian classics, it is more than obvious where certain character traits are coming from. Which does not make it less original - in a way it allows Akunin to explore those characters in new unexpected ways. This first novel is a conspiracy mystery - or an adventure one - whatever you prefer.

A young man who should have had everything to live for kills himself. Before long another man dies - and it starts looking like that suicide was anything but - despite everyone seeing Kokorin shoot himself. As the dead men are affluent enough, the police needs to investigate and Fandorin is thrown into the mystery - where he is trying not to stumble too much. The investigation takes him all the way to London (and back) - and leads to discovering a world conspiracy which noone ever thought about. Somewhere along the way, Erast manages to fall in love - with a girl who should have been above his station. The end of the novel comes as a shock - not because it is illogical but because one hopes that this is not where everything is going.

As much as I like Akunin, this had always been one of the books I never really liked. It is not even the revised history and the conspiracy - it relies on coincidences a bit too much for my taste and any twist you can think of will happen. If one wants to read the series, it does give the background of Fandorin that would put him on the path he is to follow later but... it is a weak novel in an otherwise enjoyable series. At the same time, on some level it actually works - in the way the action movies of the 80s and 90s work - it is popcorn fiction. But Russian at this time is fascinating.

tammikuu 13, 2020, 8:08pm

>41 AnnieMod: I've seen and enjoyed a few of Ayckbourn's plays but had no idea he'd written a novel. I enjoyed your review of it, and I like that use of telling a story through the use of different documents. I think I'll have to check it out.

tammikuu 13, 2020, 8:17pm

9. Fated by Benedict Jacka

Meet Alex Verus. He owns and runs a magic shop in London. Nope, not the kind that sells cards and fake crystal balls - the real deal.

Benedict Jacka's first novel introduces us to yet another magical version of London - with the normals not seeing the magical world (as usual) and the magical world on the brink of a war (again). Alex is a diviner - he can see the future - which turns out to be more flexible than one expects and his gifts allows him to judge probabilities and basically know what is going to happen - when he pays attention anyway. Unfortunately he is like most diviners - he does not pay attention and he is curious. Which is apparently why there aren't that many of them left.

Diviners are considered the lightweights of the magical world - in a world where matter can be manipulated, it seems like seeing the future is not really that interesting. Until one starts thinking about it.

When the novel opens, Alex is being recruited from both factions of wizards out there -- both the light and the dark side needs him for something. Which does not happen often - he had escaped from the dark side and the light one does not like him much. And still, the offer is there. And it seems like this time, they also need his friend Luna - the girl who was cursed to never have anything bad happen to her. In case you wonder how that can be a curse, there is one think you need to know about that universe - bad things and bad luck are like matter, they do not disappear. So if her curse makes sure she is safe, it also makes sure noone around her is... in the worst possible way.

The job everyone seems to be after is an old artifact - a very old and powerful one. And everyone is off - a few dark mages, a few betrayals, Arachne, elementals (some on the good side, some on the bad) and a lot of chasing and running and not very bright decision on all sides lead everyone to a showdown that almost takes out our hero.

If that sounds very close to Dresden, then you are on the right path - this is the inspiration - it is just across the pond. But it is not a carbon copy - Alex is different enough to make a difference and the world is actually interesting on its own. I think I am going to stick with this series for now and see what happens next.

tammikuu 13, 2020, 8:22pm

>46 valkyrdeath:

I had never seen (or read) any of his plays - which is not surprising - outside of my almost frantic plays reading last year, I had not read that many plays and most plays I had seen had been in Bulgarian... That novel made me look for some of his plays though - I like his style...

tammikuu 13, 2020, 11:05pm

Wow...several fabulous reviews here. The Divide sounds particularly interesting. Keep up the great work, Annie!

tammikuu 13, 2020, 11:10pm

Priya Sharma seems to be a writer in the margin, not a mainstream author. With such a beatiful cover and enticing story, that might still be. I think there is room for magic in contemporary fiction, and legends about dragons have always been part of the British imagination (One of the books I read last year was British Folk-Tales and Legends by Katherine Briggs.

tammikuu 13, 2020, 11:12pm

Stories of Yoko Ogawa are all quircky, in a way. I intend to read more Japanese literature, this year. The Memory Police sounds interesting.

tammikuu 14, 2020, 12:09am

>26 AnnieMod: Great review of The Memory Police. It sounds intriguing! Definitely going on the wishlist.

tammikuu 14, 2020, 12:37am

>49 kidzdoc: Thanks :) It is an interesting novel in a sea of dystopian novels that tend to merge together in my mind sometimes. Apparently he also put together a play based on it before the novel itself got published late last year (something about looking for a publisher and what's not) - I am going to try to find out the text of that one and see how it differed...

>50 edwinbcn: Based on the publisher and editor, it is published as a fantasy one - or a speculative fiction anyway. The lines do blur occasionally and as I read across the boundary, I really do not care if it is fantasy or just mainstream with legends and if there is a difference really. It is a good story. :)

>51 edwinbcn: I never plan to but I somehow always end up reading a Japanese book or 3. That was my first Ogawa - and I liked the style so may decide to check her other books as well.

>52 VivienneR: :) Thanks. That's why I love my local library - the book was just there and sounded interesting so I decided to try it - despite sounding a bit too weird to fit my usual reading patterns (but then looking bad, I seem to be breaking my patterns a lot...).

tammikuu 14, 2020, 1:43am

10. The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz

What happens when you mix a time travel with an alternate history one and then you generally sprinkle it with women and gender rights? Apparently this novel.

Thousands of years ago, people discovered 5 disks - almost destroyed by the elements but still functional - allowing people to travel back in time. Before long, everyone realized that the past is not set in stone and that edits in the past can change the present. And things got complicated.

The novel follows two main line - one starting in 2022 and jumping around from there and another starting in 1992 and moving linearly. As one may expect, they are not independent but it takes most of the novel to realize just how they connect and why.

Edits to history are not a joke matter - they delete the future and reconfigure everyone's memories - and only the person doing the edit remembers the past. The "now" of 2022 which is the main story in the novel seems similar to our time (plus the time machine) until you start seeing the small differences - Raqmu never fell under Greek and Roman rule so never became Petra, Harriet Tubman became a senator at one point, California never lost the prefix Alta from its name and Comstock won across time- abortion was never legal in the United States. And somewhere in that future, the Daughters of Harriet were born - a group of scientists that is trying to change the past and give more freedom to women (and other persecuted genders). But as is normal with history, there is also another group that wants the opposite - complete reversal of any rights for anyone that is not a man. And so the Edit Wars started - although the opposing fraction does not just want to change things - they also want to lock the world in a single timeline.

Most of the novel happens in Chicago in 1892 (and the years after that); the 1992 story happens in Irvine, Alta California where Beth and her friends are finishing high school and going to college with all the craziness of the era (and its alternative music scene). Add a few trips to the Ordovician Period, 13th century BC and a guest from a few hundred years in the future sent back to try to save humanity (or the female part of it anyway) and you have the temporal knot that needs a lot of tugging in all kinds of directions.

If you remove the time travel, you get two stories - one of the Chicago expo and its Midway theaters (and Comstock and his... actions); one of 1992 California. And both work on their own. Joining them together and mixing them with the time travelers make them even stronger ones and the 1992 story serves as a control of what is getting changed earlier.

By the end of the novel, the California of 1992 seem closer to our timeline. But in order to get there, a lot of bad things need to happen - the novel has some pretty brutal scenes that may turn some people away. But they fit the narrative. And the story.

And somewhere along the line, there is always the lingering question - should we do that? And if editing can change the past and future, what is really the past and future. It is the priestess at the very end of the novel that will give us some answers -- and they won't come as a surprise.

I really enjoyed this novel - despite some predictability here and there, Annalee Newitz found a new way to write on a topic that a lot of authors had explored. Throughout the novel, the group starts their meetings with "I remember a time when" - reporting the times that everyone lost. One time they lost a member. Other times they lost parts of history. At the very last meeting, a few of them start the same way "I remember a time when abortion was not legal". Because in that novel, the world changed.

It is a credit to the author that she does not go into the moral part of that question - the novel and the fight is about the right of a person to make their own choices. Because of that, it may not be for everyone - but if you are not scared of the topic, I would recommend this novel.

tammikuu 14, 2020, 9:04pm

>43 baswood: Heh. I had he same question and spent 15 minutes googling the answer when all I had to do was to scroll down a few more posts.

tammikuu 15, 2020, 8:44pm

11. The Peaceful Valley Crime Wave by Bill Pronzini

Nothing interesting happens in the little town of Peaceful Bend in Peaceful Valley, Montana. When the novel opens, the sheriff Lucas Monk introduces his town to the reader - together with a bit of a history of his life and the place - drunken brawls happen but no major crime and no Indian problems lately either. And just in case someone starts wondering, he also mentions the time - mid October, 1914.

The town is exactly what you would expect at that time in the area - small town population, farms around it, a tobacco shop, a few bars, a few women which make Internet look slow when you compare how fast information can get to everyone, a preacher, a telegraph office, a small newspaper - and the first car. Pronzini (or the publisher) classified that as a western and in a lot of ways it is - but it is also just at the time when wagons and horses are starting to be replaced by cars so we have a few Model Ts and other early cars sharing the roads with the old means.

And in this silent place, in the last sunny days for the year, the peace is shattered when within a few days, 5 different crimes take place. First a robbery. Then an attempted murder. Then a murder. The other 2 happen later (one more murder and a smaller infraction involving alcohol) but the three that start the wave seem to almost happen at the same time - the tobacco shop loses a wooden Indian, one of the gossiping ladies almost dies from drinking poisoned buttermilk and the young Charity Axthelm, who everyone believes to have ran away with a peddler, is found dead. And it seems like the three crimes are not connected in any way or form.

Pronzini knows how to write mysteries and this one does not disappoint. It is slower than you would usually expect but it fits both the sheriff and the times so anything else would not have worked as well. By the end of the novel, there is one more death, a wanted murdered is arrested and more than one family loses everything. And despite the number of crimes and the seriousness of most of the story, there are enough subplot that make you laugh (and some where you really want to reach through the page and hit someone on the head...).

It is not hard to figure out some of the crimes - the breadcrumbs are there for you to try but usually you won't be more than a step ahead of Lucas Monk. His solutions come from knowing the people and paying attention and not from being especially talented - and that's what had also kept him in office for more than a decade.

The novel finishes with a look into the next year - the whole novel feels like a remembrance from Monk somewhere in the future - and in places he does show this usual "if only I had" way of thinking when you tell the story knowing where it is going. That final makes it less likely for this to become the first novel in a new series -- it is a standalone for now - but it does not close all the doors.

I grabbed this novel from the library because of its title - and I liked it a lot more than I expected. So if you are looking for a calm and nice mystery, set in the past (so no phones, internet, fast information and what's not) and without a know-it-all to solve everything, give this one a chance.

tammikuu 16, 2020, 2:04pm

>45 AnnieMod: I’m sorry about your friend, and also I’m touched by the special nature of your relationship you had through reading.

I just read these last six reviews at once. As always, all entertaining. Fun stuff your reading and fun reviews.

tammikuu 16, 2020, 3:01pm

>57 dchaikin: Thanks, Dan

In a lot of ways, Club Read replaced her in terms of new authors and books discussions, especially after I moved. I miss her though (now even more...).

tammikuu 16, 2020, 4:14pm

Wow! Some great reviews and so many interesting books. I’ve wishlisted The Divide, Ormeshadow, The Future of Another Timeline, and The Peaceful Valley Crime Wave. (To be honest I actually purchased Ormeshadow which was only $3.99 for Kindle).
Thank you for sharing about your friend The Bookseller. How very fortunate you were to have her in your life, and I’m sorry that is no longer.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 22, 2020, 1:46pm

I thought I'd commented on your thread earlier, since I remembered your Curious Toys review, but apparently not. Noting it, The Memory Police, and The Future of Another Timeline.

tammikuu 16, 2020, 5:40pm

>59 arubabookwoman: :) I always think of that as one of those "hold my beer" moments for Fate - "you like reading but you read only 2 genres... hm, let me see what I can do" :)

Re: Ormeshadow's price - that's the standard pricing for the e-books in this line from Tor - I tend to do the same when my librray do not stock one of them or if I cannot wait. Hope you like it - and whatever else you decide to read from the list.

>60 mabith: Welcome to the fun :)

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 17, 2020, 2:36pm

12. The Case of the Phantom Fortune by Erle Stanley Gardner

The 72nd Perry Mason novel is a bit unusual - the first body does not show up until you are in the second half of the book - in most books we are at the trial stage by that point. Which does not mean that there are no crimes before that.

A man comes to the lawyer's office to hire him to protect his wife from something that sounds suspiciously as blackmail. But as usual, there are a lot of stipulations and weirdness in the whole case - and despite that, Perry Mason takes the case. Before the story is done, the original blackmail starts feeling like the first movement in a 4 hours symphony - except that it turns out that we walked into it in the middle of it so this is nowhere close to the first movement.

As with most books from the series, they cannot work today - the forensic science and communications had evolved to a point where almost none of what happened could happen again. But that's why I like the old novels - it is a different pace and allows a different type of storytelling - in a way these can be considered historical novels (although I am pretty sure that historical novels readers may disagree).

At the center of this one is a woman (as usual) who seems to have one too many secrets. Of course, if she had bothered to talk to her husband, she may have realized that not only he knows about her past but he knew before he married her. But this would have been too easy. So instead everyone is drawn into a mess of a case which will leave one man dead, an old crime solved and the past revealed - albeit not to the public. Somewhere in there, Mason almost manages to get both his client and himself in a big trouble (pulling tricks is fine when you know the whole story, when you do not, you tend to make things worse). Hamilton Burger tries to debar Mason again, Lt. Tragg saves the day as usual (or better to say - he messes up, then does his job and it ends up revealing the truth which ends up solving everything - again, as usual) and at the end everything turns out to be a bit different from what anyone thought before - including Mason turning the tables on Burger not just on the murder - if the very end of the novel does not make you laugh, you had not been paying attention.

I am enjoying this series ever since I started reading the novels 4 years ago (that's my 74th) and I am used to the somewhat repetitious style of Gardner when Mason talks to his clients (and during the trials) - his characters will repeat some of the information over and over when needed. But even for that style, the beginning of this novel is unusually repetitious. It smooths out after the first few chapters and I can understand why Gardner had to write it this way but if you are not used to the style, it will be even more grating.

As a whole, a solid entry in the series despite not being the strongest and all my misgivings around that start.

tammikuu 17, 2020, 2:02pm

Lots of interesting reading going on here, Annie. I’m curious about the Perry Mason. 72nd?!?! How many are there?

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 17, 2020, 2:32pm

>63 NanaCC:

82 novels (the last 2 of them published after his death) and 4 stories. :) I am getting to the end of the series and I will miss it... The first novel was published in 1933; the last in 1973. You can see the forensic science and society evolving through the series... I have reviews for some of the early ones (#2 for example - the first I read) if you want to look through my 2016 and later threads or through my catalog.

You do not need to read these in order - it is an old style series where they are all real standalones once you get to know the main characters - but if you do (or almost in order anyway), you can see all the developments - not in Mason and Della and Drake but in what can and cannot be done and how crime works (and gets solved).

And Gardner has other series as well - 30 novels in Cool and Lam (I have 29 left of those to read), 9 in his D. A./Doug Selby Mysteries series (I read all of those already - wish there were more -- it is the opposite of Mason - we have an intelligent D. A. for a change), 2 each in the Gramps Wiggins and the Terry Clane series and a handful of standalones. Plus a metric ton of non-Mason stories from magazines (there is a lot of time between 1921 when the first one was published and the late sixties when he died although most of the stories are pre-1950, the vast majority pre-WWII even) which I will be tracking down when I wrap up the novels or get left with just the one series (Cool and Lam). :)

When I like an author, I tend to stick with them that way... :)

tammikuu 17, 2020, 2:44pm

I remember you reading several of them in the past few years, but didn’t realize the number of books there are. I’m the same way if I find an author I like. And then I’m sad when I know there are no more.

tammikuu 18, 2020, 6:41pm

>45 AnnieMod: Lovely way to remember your friend.

Enjoyed you review of The future of Another Timeline one to look out for.

tammikuu 26, 2020, 9:12pm

>26 AnnieMod: You remind me that I have The Memory Police in one of my TPR piles, so I only read the few lines of your review. I will be back to read it when I've read the book. I certainly enjoyed her other books (if I remember correctly there was one of the novellas in The Diving Pool I didn't like as well as the other).

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 1, 2020, 9:01pm

35. The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton -- standalone

25. Misery Bay by Steve Hamilton -- Alex McKnight (8)
66. Die a Stranger by Steve Hamilton -- Alex McKnight (9)
96. Let It Burn by Steve Hamilton -- Alex McKnight (10)

Steve Hamilton is one of those authors who you had either heard good things of (and usually like) or you had never heard of. I found him back in 2016 while looking through the Shamus Awards First Novel winners and nominees (in this case his first novel won the 1999 one plus the 1999 Edgar for first novel and got nominated for both the Barry and the Anthony first novels awards) - it is always a good place to find new authors. With that many accolades, a novel is either extremely good or something in it just resonated in that specific year. With Hamilton, it was the first. And while a lot of authors find it hard to repeat their great first novel, Hamilton had only been getting better since.

So as part of my ongoing "catch up with the books of authors you like" quest, I had been steadily making progress with Hamilton. He has 2 series (the better known Alex McKnight one, a shorter (and newer) Nick Mason one) and 2 standalone novels.

The Lock Artist is the second standalone and one of his most decorated books (it won the Edgar and the Barry and got on the shortlists/nomination lists of the CWA Gold Dagger and the Dilys plus the non-genre Alex award (10 Adult books which appeal to YA)). As it is not a detective story, it was not eligible for the Shamus award and I am not sure why it did not make the Anthony list -- but the novel is a bit unusual. But I digress (as usual).

It takes awhile to figure out where the narrative voice in that story is and the story is set on parallel timelines but by the middle of the book things click in nicely and by the end you really appreciate the non-linearity of the story - it could not have worked as a linear story.

Meet Mike - a teenager who had not said a word in 10 years and who has the gift of opening locks, any lock, any place. With such a talent, it is almost obvious that the story will be about a heist - and it is. But it is also about the history leading to the heist and how Mike ended up how he ended up. One of the best standalone crime books I had read in years (series book rely on a lot of baggage from previous books and can leave threads for the rest; this one packs all in one book and makes it stick).

The Alex McKnight series is set in the upper Peninsula of Michigan, on the lake, just under Canada where the summers last a month (if that), there is snow 9 months of the year (if not longer) and you can feel as isolated as if you were on Mars. Alex used to be a baseball player (until an injury put a stop to that), then a policeman in Detroit but then he ended up with 3 bullets and a dead partner after 8 years on the force and after one of the bullets had to stay next to his heart (too dangerous to remove), he retired and moved north. Although that was not the plan - he came up to sell his father's cabins and ended up staying. The series starts after he had settled up in Paradise (the name of the town on the lake) but through the series, his past get mentioned and occasionally has a role in the story. Alex has a PI license but he rarely uses it - for various reasons - but when he does, he has a trusty partner in Leon (who is a much smarter man than Alex). Add Vinnie (Alex's neighbor) and Jackie (the local bar owner), the Ojibwa Indian tribe next door and the lake itself and you have most of the cast of the series. While each of the books in the series works on its own, reading the series in order actually makes more sense - and both gives you background and make sure you do not spoil yourself for the previous books.

In Misery Bay, the 8th in the series, Alex (still grieving for Natalie) gets one of the surprises of his life when the Sault Ste. Marie police Chief Roy Maven comes to ask for his help. For 7 books (and way too many years to count), the two men had been close to enemies - never seeing eye to eye. And yet, when Maven's old partner needs help, the only PI the Chief can think of is Alex - so he comes and ask him to look into the suicide of the partner's son. Reluctantly, Alex goes to look and before one can even blink, more people end up dead (some of them horrifically), Maven and Alex team up (against FBI in some cases) and uncover a sick man and a string of murders that had stayed hidden for awhile.

Then in the 9th, Die a Stranger, it is time for Alex to help Vinnie - who seems to have something to do with 5 dead bodies on a small airport strip in the area. Knowing his friend, Alex knows that the disappearance of Vinnie is probably related to the mess but not in the way the police believes it to be. And the hunt is on. Remote airstrip, close to Canada, small planes who need very little besides a pilot spell contraband - and it is not surprising that this is exactly what this turns out to be - from the worst kind. And despite everything looking bleak for Vinnie, Alex keeps believing his friend - and end up solving yet another crime that does not make sense.

And then in the 10th, Let It Burn, we are out of the Upper Peninsula completely (Alex does end up sleeping in his bed a few nights but that is about it). A call wakes him one day to tell him that a man he helped put in jail is going out on parole - and that makes him remember his last case, the one which probably would have led to him becoming a detective if he had not been shot the same night the case broke. And with the memory come the questions. Hamilton takes the structure of "The Lock Artist" and reuses it here, weaving a double timeline again - one in the past, in the last month of Alex's career in the police and one in the present, where Alex start getting more and more unsettled about what exactly happened in that month. It is easy to see where this book is leading -- and it goes there but it is Hamilton's writing gift that allows this book to work despite its old premise. It is the first time when we get a real glimpse at Alex pre-injury (we had seen some elements earlier) and see what made him the man he is. It is a much slower book than the series usually is (until it is not - the end is as high speed as always); it is there to close a door to the past that had been just staying there. The novel also gives you a glimpse at a dying city - Detroit - once the pride of the States and today a shell of its own past -- and its troubled justice history. And despite it being so very different from the series overall, it does work as part of it.

Unfortunately for me, there is only one novel left in the series for me to read (and I wish we will get more but we will see). I also have the second Nick Mason novel and a few stories to read but then I will need to wait for Hamilton to write something. He is not exactly the "1 book a year" writer as most of the genre writers tend to be so it is really anyone's guess when we will get another book. But I still have 2 of his to look forward to :)

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 17, 2020, 4:03am

112. The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga, translated from the French by Jordan Stump

When I hear Rwanda and Tutsi, my thoughts go to the 1990s - the Civil war and then the genocide of 1994. Somewhere at the back of my mind I had always known that it did not start in the 90s and there were deeper problems somewhere there but I'd be the first to admit that I shied from looking up the details - the story next door to me in Yugoslavia was stomach-turning enough to go and look for another one. And then this book just showed up.

Scholastique Mukasonga was born in 1956 in Rwanda to Tutsi parents. Before she understands enough to really remember life before the change, her family is exiled to another part of the country, losing their way of life and everything they owned. So her connection to the traditions and the past becomes her mother, Stefania. And this slim book is a tribute to the mother - but in a way also a tribute to the Rwanda that never existed for her and to all the mothers.

Writing from the safety of France in 2008 (well - relative safety anyway), long after everyone she is writing is dead, Scholastique Mukasonga tells the story of a displaced culture, of people turned into refugees in their own country. She is not trying to generalize and explain how everyone lived - she recounts her own memories from her family and neighbors. And as with every life, these memories are full of sorrow and laughter, disappointment and hope. Except that she never lets the hope stand - anytime when any hope even tries to glimmer through, she reminds us that noone survives, that all those people got slaughtered in their own homes before they could realize their dreams. She does not need to be explicit or repeat the banal words of death - a small sentence at the end of a chapter is enough to remind you that this world does not exist anymore and will never exist anymore.

I often find memoirs about one's childhood to be too infused with the knowledge of what is coming and where the story leads. And this should have felt the same way - but it does not. It is not the voice of the growing girl but it is not the analytical voice of the mature immigrant either - it manages to stay somewhere in the middle.

This is the first book I read by Mukasonga and it definitely will not be the last - her writing style works in ways I am not sure I understand - but it does.

kesäkuu 15, 2020, 1:48pm

113. Made in Saturn by Rita Indiana, translated from the Spanish by Sydney Hutchinson

This is one weird novel.

Meet Argenis Luna - the son of a politician from the Dominican Republic (who started as a revolutionary together with Che and Castro). When we first meet him, he had been sent by his family to Cuba to try to cure him from his addiction to drugs. Except things in Cuba do not go exactly as planned and the whole trip turns into an attempt to face his past and the demons in it - mostly by creating new ones and burning bridges. Not literally - despite his pedigree.

The first part of the novel, the one set in Cuba almost made me stop reading - it is not a bad novel but it seems to go nowhere and I am not much for the existential thoughts of a recovering addict. The style and the tone does not change when he goes back to the Dominican Republic but something started working a bit differently. Confronting the past becomes the norm and we see that past unfolding in memories - despite his current prominence, the father was never the man he expected to be. Contrasting this with the grandmother (who worked as a domestic all her life) and the aunt (who ran as soon as she could but was not unscathed), the father emerges from the page bigger than life - and makes you realize that Argenis has all the right to be disillusioned and bitter.

By the end of the novel, it seems like all the ghosts of the past are exorcised - at least the ones he started the novel with so he goes on to try to deal with the ones he created himself.

The world is full of news and prose for the revolutions that swept the Caribbean - some more successful, some less. This novel tries to explore the question of "what happened next, when the cameras stopped rolling and people had to go back to their lives". It is not a new question and it is not the first novel to do that and in a way it fails -- things end up too neatly, too orderly while the world does not work that way. But in other ways it succeeds in bringing past and present together and showing a world that exists at the moment, behind the slogans and away from the cameras.

I did not like some parts of the novel but I liked the style so I think I will look for some of the other books by the author.

kesäkuu 15, 2020, 2:11pm

114. Ghost Money by Stephen Blackmoore, Eric Carter #5

So what else can happen to Eric Carter after everything from the previous books - he got married to Santa Muerte (twice), almost got turned into jade, saved Mictlan(or started to anyway), got beaten more often than you would expect possible, lost the last of his family, saved a lot of souls, killed some others, burned down most of Los Angeles. Admittedly he was not the one who burned the city technically but if you ask him, he is the one to blame. Did I mention that he is also a necromancer and he can see ghosts?

This novel opens a short while after the previous one closed, in the aftermath of the near destruction of the city. Somehow the world managed to accept that it was a natural phenomenon and noone thinks it has anything to do with magic. But as it actually did, and some very powerful magic, things are going from bad to worse before your eyes.

Ghosts are usually annoying but as long as you are staying on this side of the barrier, they are mostly harmless. Until someone weaponize them of course and the resident necromancer needs to figure what is going on and stop it. Add a broken promise that really needs to be fulfilled, a jinn who really wants his bottle and the regular cast of helpers who really do not like him either (not very surprising considering what they all went through last time) and Eric is way over his head. Again.

One of the things that always gets me in this series is the fact that despite it being one of the most violent urban fantasy series out there, most of the regular characters are female -- the tough cop, La Bruja (now not hiding who she really is), the doctor (who is also his ex), even Santa Muerte. And here we add one more to the group - Indigo, one of the twins who lost their mother to the feral ghosts. And while they all collectively can handle (and administer) all the violence you can think of, it is also different because each of them also cares in her own way.

By the end of the novel, Eric had managed to put himself into a corner that may be too tight even for him. On the other hand though, he is also Mictlantecuhtli these days so it is unclear if the next book will be set in Mictlan or if Blackmoore will find a way to keep it in our world. Knowing Eric, it is far from the over.

kesäkuu 16, 2020, 5:58am

>69 AnnieMod: Interesting review from an author I am willing to read from, but never got to it. Her novel-memoir Notre-Dame du Nil/Our Lady of the Nile was published a few years latter and won a few impressive awards. It's the book that made her famous (well, a fame limited to book addicts) in France, or at least the book that made hear about her for the first time.
It's about the year leading to the Genocide and how she spent those years in a boarding school.
Thanks for your review that is a reminder of a book that has been longing on my shelves for at least a couple of years...

kesäkuu 16, 2020, 1:42pm

>69 AnnieMod: I've seen this one, but hadn't taken a closer look. I'll definitely keep an eye out for it now.

kesäkuu 17, 2020, 1:39am

>72 raton-liseur:

I have that one on my list as well -- together with her other memoir. She tells the stories she knows - but she has a storyteller gift and even the simple and everyday sounds like a myth... And especially in this memoir, not trying to over-explain (or defend some questionable practices of her own family) works out for the best - readers are not idiots (as some memoir writers seem to think). Unfortunately I do not read French so not sure if all of that style is hers or the translator smoothed things or what is what but reading in translation is always like that. And when it works, it works :)

>73 RidgewayGirl:

I will be curious to hear what you think of her style if you pick any of her books. She is definitely away from my usual reading so I was surprised just how much I liked it.

kesäkuu 17, 2020, 3:52am

>74 AnnieMod: You make it sound so good that it is going near the top of my to-be-read books... Maybe some time during summer?

kesäkuu 17, 2020, 6:10am

>69 AnnieMod: I enjoyed your review of the Mukasonga. I've got at least one of her books on my TBR shelves, and your thoughts on her writing make me want to read it (them?)

kesäkuu 18, 2020, 6:06pm

115. The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

It is 1974 and the long reign of Haile Selassie in Ethiopia is about to end. That prompts an old man to try to find a woman he knew almost 40 years earlier and to try to recover an old box so they meet for the first time since the pre-WWII years. But this is not what this novel is about -- because this is used just as a framing device to allow Mengiste to tell the story of those pre-war years in Ethiopia - although calling them pre-war is not really correct.

While fascism was getting stronger in Europe and the world was slowly moving towards the disaster of the WWII, Benito Mussolini decided to correct an old wrong - 40 years earlier, in 1895-1896, Italy lost its war with Ethiopia for the African country's territory (and independence) and that had never sat well with the Italians - both at home and in Italian Eritrea. So in 1935 he declares the second Italo-Ethiopian War and sends his men marching. And the world is about to burn.

But we won't see the Italians for a while - the novel opens with Hirun - a young woman who, after she lost her family, now works for Kidane and Aster - a wealthy couple which had lost their only child, a son, on the same day she came to their household. Kidane and Hirun had known each other for a long time - although it will be much later in the novel that we will know the full extent of that statement - but Aster sees in her a competition and treats her accordingly.

The viewpoint the story it told from shifts occasionally although early in the novel it is mainly Hirun's. And in these uneasy days come the rumors that the Italians are coming and Kidane, as the local lord (there is probably a better word than this but that one conveys the meaning) needs to equip an army and defend the country. And Aster and Hirun will not allow to be left behind.

And when the Italians arrive, we are meeting the second protagonist of that framing story - Ettore Navarra, a Jewish Italian soldier whose job is to take pictures. His commanding officer is a bully who gets worse with time (especially after an attempts is made on his life) and the cruelty of war replaces most of the domestic drama that this all started with. Most but not all - because some of the worst cruelties will come from the hands of the people who one had known for a long time.

The structure of the story does not make much sense until you start seeing the references to Aida and you realize that you are looking at an opera - with chorus and interludes, with acts and scenes. And somewhere in between the acts are the photos - they are never printed, they are just described, as a still photo that is shown at the beginning of a still movie. And the opera and the photo album are so intertwined that they make a complete whole out of the parts.

In her note at the end of the novel Mengiste says that she wanted to tell the lost stories of the women that participated in the Italo-Ethiopian War (including her own great-grandmother), the forgotten fighters that had to go back home and be forgotten when it was all over. The chosen format helps - without that operatic structure, I would not considered that a successful attempt (we hear very little about most of the women) but it is all there -- partially nameless (and representing all women), partially on the actions of Astrid and Hirun and Fifi (a prostitute by day, a resistance leader by night) and the cook). And it also allows the rise of an unexpected hero - a man who had been called Noone by his own mother and who ends up being everything for everyone. By the end of the novel, roles will be reversed and the everything will want to be the noone -- and will try to be.

And as the novel progresses, you learn to recognize the parts -- in the Interludes we see Haile Selassie and his reactions, in the photo album we see most of the cruelty, the chorus adds the missing context and the acts and scenes carry the story. And while the story is careening towards its known end - the occupation of Ethiopia and then its liberation - the life of Ettore is also careening towards the abyss. Being a Jew is not the most healthy thing to be towards the end of the 30s.

And those stories intertwine -- changing the roles of the involved to the point where when someone talks for the future or we get a glimpse of it, we cannot tell who is the prisoner and who is the guard; we cannot tell who we need to be sympathetic to.

I liked the novel quite a lot but I wish an editor had cut some of it. Not the action - but the prose. Mengiste tends to be over-wordy in places where it seems like a single word will be enough (although she can also be economical with her prose where it actually matters). There are whole sections which read like an exercise in style and not as a part of the novel -- they are there mainly to show her way with words. Which works well now and then but when it happens every few pages, you wish someone had edited them out; by the middle of the novel they start being tiresome, despite their beauty.

For a novel about a war, where noone exits unscathed, it is a surprisingly upbeat one. Giving up, while considered often, is never an option and finding one's way through is considered the only way ahead -- a sentiment that the parents of all our main characters seem to have had - thus linking them again into an invisible net. And the cruelty does not always come from the enemy -- on either side.

I would still recommend the novel, even if it may be too wordy for a lot of people.

kesäkuu 18, 2020, 10:06pm

>77 AnnieMod: This sounds really interesting. I'm not usually one for war stories but it sounds like this is more character focused? And I love a wordy novel personally.

kesäkuu 19, 2020, 2:08am

>78 janemarieprice:

There is a small part of it about the war and the battles (and some of the prose there can be breath taking with constant change of narrator and viewpoint - which should not work but does somehow) but it is not just a war story. Plus the war dissolved into a resistance movement pretty soon (just the nature of that particular war) and even in its most military parts, it is still not exactly a war-story. And yes - it uses the war to show the growth (and lack of) of the people on both sides, and the banality of being suddenly called “the other” while having been one of the boys for a long time (for Ettore). A portrait of a nation in the middle of a change may also apply although that may be too grand (but Selassie is there so maybe not). And a story about traditions, memories and secrets.

If you like the almost overwritten novels style, that may be right up your alley. Not sure - it is not my usual style of reading (but this is why I like Powell’s Indiespensable program where this one came from). It is not a perfect novel but it works and it made me think so it did its job. And I learned a lot more about a war I knew nothing about - both from the novel (which is not historically accurate at everything being a novel - the author even mentioned that in her note) and from looking up the real data to see just who else besides Selassie is a real person and what really happened. That may not be a good thing if you don’t like history for example but it is also not needed - all the background that is relevant is in the novel.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 22, 2020, 12:18pm

116. Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay

The first 3/4th of this novel is a very readable (if occasionally annoyingly incomplete) historical novel set in the late 20s and 30s in Canada. The last 1/4th changes that to something totally different. We know it is not just a historical novel - even at this first start there is a narrator voice who does not belong completely but I really enjoyed the story set in the past. Once she moved to recent past and current times, things went downhill.

The narrator, Anne, starts a story about her mother -- but somewhere in the novel she does admit that she went sideways to it. And it ends up being a novel about an aunt and about Anne herself - and the memories that bind a family.

When a novel starts with a murder (in 1937), you would expect that this will be the main story. Hay does not do that - she opens with a murder but it is there mostly to allow the story of Connie to the introduced - the aunt who went teaching in the Canadian prairies in 1929 (when she was 18) and where she met the two men whose lives will fascinate Anne a few decades later. The story of 1929 and then 1937 is the part of this novel I really liked -- the young girl who teaches the kids who are almost her age, the principal who seems to have something broken inside of him, the school and the details of the life in the area and in the school - despite a lot of unsettling moments, including another dead girl (Susan).

But then Anne comes into the picture, not just researching the past but interacting with the characters (now in their 60s or older) and the run through the next 30 years or so change the whole tone of the novel. I suspect that the beginning and the past were there to support this last part but it just did not work for me. I had no issues with the affair or with Anne's obsession with the past (or that we never learned the truth about that murder that opened the book) but this part felt overwritten and repetitive in places.

Looking back at the novel, I liked it more than I expected but I wish it had been just Connie's story - even if it was the complete Connie story, with the last years' affair - adding Anne's existential thoughts just did not match. And then there is the very end where an old play emerges which makes you (and Anne) wonder if all we just read was ever the truth - did she really get the full story while she was looking for it or did she just get one side of the story - do we really know what happened to Susan and later in the lives of everyone who was there.

I liked the author's style - I am not planning on seeking her other works but if I find one, I may read another one.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 22, 2020, 7:29pm

117. Cane by Jean Toomer

Well, this was different. The Library of America calls this a novel and maybe under some definition of a modernist novel, it may qualify. I don't read the modernists (or I do very rarely anyway) and I need my novels to have a structure or at least a plot. Although after having read that, I realize that if a structure is enough, then this indeed may be a novel. But that will also be true for linked stories collections. Or maybe I should stop trying to find a box to fit it under and just talk about the book.

The book is a mix of poems, stories, vignettes and even a mix of a play and a story at the very end. All the pieces have the same main topic - the life of African Americans in a world designed and ran by the whites. And Toomer takes a circular route into the topic - he starts with the South (Georgia), moves north (Washington) and then sends a northern man south to close the circle back in rural Georgia. And while this cycle ties the different texts together, it also highlighted the difference between the different parts.

The first one, the one set in the South reads like one of those stories that evolve around a fireplace - a mix of poetry and small stories and portraits of people and places, with repetitions inside of the same story and between stories. It sounds like a sing-song, even the parts that are obviously prose. Not all of those stories are nice, most of them are not but they all work as a whole and paints an image of a land steeped in legends and superstitions.

And as lyrical as that first part is, the second one pulls you out and throws you into the emerging jazz era of the big city. The same mix of prose and poetry reads very very differently and it loses the magic of the legends. It was intentional I think - it was supposed to show the new world but for some reason it sounded more crude and disjointed than a real counterpart of the first part.

And then comes the (almost) play, "Kabnis". A Northern black teacher moves to Georgia to teach and finds a community in the middle of a change. The lyrical language of the first part is back but now mixed with something else. The start is rough in the same way the very beginning of the novel is but once you get used to the dialect and the rhythm of the play/story, it slowly turns into the best part of the whole book. It is not just a play, there are parts of it which cannot be set on stage but using the play format allows the author not to look for scene transitions and connections and to set the acts he wants to.

Tradition meets jazz (and the new world), racism meets love and women meеt men -- most of the pieces deal with at least one of these pairs; the ones that do not deal with just one side of a pair. And somewhere under all these diverse stories and poems emerges a portrait of a time, told by a voice of someone who belongs to the Jazz era but lives outside of it.

At the end I liked this more than I expected to. I came into it with very low expectations - modernist fiction rarely works for me. And it took awhile for me to warm up to it. I still do not find the style appealing but I am happy I read this one.

I was never drawn to reading it and it is very likely that I would have never read it. But when BBC Radio 4 aired a new dramatization, I decided that I may as well read it before I listen to it. Next step will be to listen to the 1 hour adaptation and see how they tackled the very weird material.

kesäkuu 22, 2020, 1:48pm

>81 AnnieMod: Really enjoyed your review. Cane has been sitting on my shelf a long time. I wasn’t aware of the structure.

kesäkuu 22, 2020, 2:02pm

>80 AnnieMod: I had much the same reaction to Alone in the Classroom. The final section lost the power of the more interesting first part. If you run into a copy, Late Nights on Air is a much tighter novel.

kesäkuu 22, 2020, 2:25pm

>82 dchaikin: It is a weird duck, Dan. During most of the reading, it felt as if it is just a random jumble of scenes and poems with no connection and I almost gave up a few times, especially in that middle part -- and yet, when I closed the book (well, turned off the kindle), it felt as if I read a connected story. If I had written the review before I read Kabnis (or if I had decided not to read it at all and still post an opinion, it would have been that it reads like a poetry collection mixed with random stories and scenes, loosely connected to the way of life of the African Americans in the Jazz era - with the poetry being the much better part of it and the first part being a lot more enjoyable than the second. But with Kabnis as a closer, the prose actually made a lot more sense and came into focus. And yet, NONE of the stories share a character (unless we count the South as a character that is).

I do wonder if this is not my major problem with the modernists (literature anyway - I still do not understand the art at all) -- you need the whole book to figure out what they are trying to do (as opposed to the more standard narrative styles where you need the whole story/novel for the complete thing but you still have the structure and intent clear from early on. Or maybe I read too much into a single novel. The Harlem Renaissance is a bit on the outside of modernism I think.

kesäkuu 22, 2020, 3:21pm

I don’t have enough experience reading modernists to formulate a response, but my worry is that the book will be too hard for me to understand. Based on your review, it sounds like I’ll need to read this one with some patience.

kesäkuu 22, 2020, 4:09pm

>85 dchaikin:

You read more poetry than I do so it is possible that this will help here. But yes - patience is definitely required unless it manages to get you into the story of course :)

>83 RidgewayGirl:

The library has only her memoir so I don't think I am picking up another one soon but I've noted this one down. Sometimes I just decide to give a second chance to an author I did not hate but did not like enough to continue. Thanks!

kesäkuu 22, 2020, 7:04pm

>81 AnnieMod: Great review. I've known of that book for a long time, but nothing really about it. I like the modernists when I'm in the mood—I like a good, close, challenging read sometimes in the same way I like any other genre sometimes. I'll put that on my list—I see my library has it, so that's always one less bit of friction when the thought strikes.

kesäkuu 23, 2020, 2:30am

>81 AnnieMod: and next: It's an interesting take on modernist literature. I am usually disconfortable with this literature as well, as I feel it is usually too hiden and I fear I won't get it or get it wrong or incomplete.
Thanks for putting words on a feeling towards some books that I have also had.

kesäkuu 26, 2020, 2:46pm

118. Watershed by Doreen Vanderstoop

In 2058 the glaciers had melted completely and Southern Alberta (in Canada) is dying from the drought. With no water left, all the water is delivered by truck - to be metered and dumped into the cisterns that everyone owns. Just a short few decades earlier, the same area was drowning under the constant rains and floods caused by the melting - and the cisterns were built to catch the rain water. And then the rain stopped coming.

Willa and Calvin are trying to survive on their goat farm (goats need less water than cows) and things do not look especially well for them. The work is too much for the two of them and their own child, Daniel, is away, trying to make his way in the big world. Costs are spiraling out, the bank wants its money and on top of everything, Willa starts getting hallucinations.

Meanwhile a big corporation is trying to build a pipe into Southern Alberta, connecting the desalination plant which cleans water from the ocean (reusing the old gas pipes, now cleaned) to the area that lacks water. Willa and Calvin's son Daniel is hired by them as a scientists and sent to the south for "Water Talks" - a discussion with the locals about the pipe. The whole plan of the pipe is a problem for a group in Northern Alberta who decides to blow up a pipe or three, take a hostage or 2 and mess up with the plans of anyone.

And somewhere under the domestic story of the farm and the thriller sequence of Daniel's story, there is the underlying story of memories and choices, old secrets and new problems, death and loss. A child loses both his parents, Willa seems to be losing her mind and they all lost almost everything to the drought and the years. The past comes bubbling up from the past - abandonment and death had been part of Willa's life for a long time. And at the end things get resolved almost too neatly.

This book could have been a lot better than it ended up being. It is not a bad book but it had its problems:
- If you are going to use existing locales, make the math work. Watershed is supposed to be set in a future Canada but when you add up the years, Southern Alberta should already be drowning at this point (2020). Which makes it an alternative Canada. Moving the year from 2058 to 2078 would have solved that neatly (although then it would have messed up so later year references). It felt like the author could not reconcile her timelines so it went into an alternative timeline instead. And I checked - it was published in 2020 so it is not that.
- 2058 is not that far away. Unless the educational system collapses (and it does not seem to have done that), Saddam Hussein will not be "some dictator from the 20th century".
- While I can see how Willa's hallucinations can fit the plot and be used to drive the story, the "vivid memories" of pretty much everyone just sound like a bad way not to write a flashback or just a scene in the past.
- When you have two main lines, you do not almost ignore one of them for long periods of the novel -- as they were uneven in length, Daniel's story felt almost forgotten for long stretches.
- Outside of the main characters, the characterization is almost cartoonist - the bad aunt, the First Nation man, the bank manager, the CEO, the chair of the Water Talks, the old friend, the villain.
- Whatever happened to the "show, don't tell". You do not need someone to explain what we just saw to someone else on the phone; neither you need to use a character to explain something when you can just show it.

It was supposed to be Willa's redemption story I think but it got a bit too heavy handed.

Despite all that, it was a pretty readable novel if you like the genre, especially from a debut novelist. It had its charms and the style mostly worked. And the story was there -- it just needed more polish.

kesäkuu 26, 2020, 2:50pm

>87 lisapeet:

Libraries are good for that (until their only copy is needed by 20 people...)

>88 raton-liseur:

I decided long ago that I really do not care if I am getting it. If I miss the point or miss what the author meant to say, well... they should have said it better then. :) Once I was done with the mandatory "what the author wanted to say" in high school, I decided to just enjoy the reading. Does not mean that I won't think or check a reference book now and again but I won't skip a book just because I may not understand it -- I will try. If it does not work, I will leave it for awhile an try again later.

kesäkuu 28, 2020, 7:49am

>4 AnnieMod: I like your lists. Your list "Waiting for the Next Book" is an interesting idea. Maybe I should do would be a shorter list than yours certainly. A couple of months ago I researched and bought a number of new-to-me crime novelists and am slowly getting to them. I don't expect all with turn out to be my kind of thing....

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 1, 2020, 8:58pm

>91 avaland:

They were not supposed to be this long... but then it is a weird year. When I started them the idea was to add the authors I always read as soon as they get a book out, the series I am uptodate on and waiting for a new book and the series I am actively catching up on (aka - read at least 1 book this year but there are more until I am up to the latest one). Then the world went crazy and I changed the latter to "any series I have immediate access to the next book and/or can get access quickly" -- these are the authors I know what to expect from so no surprises and badly themed books - exactly what I needed for awhile. Which made the list a bit too long...

I use a set of tags (series:continue and series:waiting) in my catalog (well... if I get around to adding them anyway - I sometimes forget) so I can easily find these but there are a lot more series there - so this is really a working list.

I need to do some updates after i finish my June reviews :)

heinäkuu 6, 2020, 7:50pm

119. The Ghosts of Sherwood by Carrie Vaughn

Most legends finish either with death or with a wedding. In the first case, you know that the story is finished. But in the second, the story usually just begins. And yet, we never get to hear what happens after the hero gets the girl.

Carrie Vaughn decided to correct that and to show us what happened to Robin Hood and Lady Marian after the last page of the usual books. Almost 20 years had passed, the merry band had disbanded, Richard the Lionheart had died and John had taken the throne - the same John who caused that many problems before. And that sets the scene for the story - we learn most of the details of these intervening decades throughout the story.

Robin and Marian are away from home when we meet the 3 children they have together: Mary, the oldest, uses every opportunity to hide in the woods; John, the only son and a middle child, always tries to follow her (and when he fails, he tends to get lost in the woods) and Eleanor, the youngest, is non-verbal (autistic?) and can be annoying to her older siblings but despite all the rumors about her, she is the baby of the family and everyone dots on her. And somewhere in Sherwood, there is a ghost -- or so it appears anyway.

Before long, the kids will get abducted and the old flame in Robin's eye which had almost died will alight again. And his merry band will be there with him. Maybe the kidnappers should have thought again before grabbing these 3 kids - and not only because of their parents.

It is a delightful novella which spends most of the story on building the world (although the abduction is the center of the story, we need the details that led to it to be told first -- and Vaughn manages to do it without making it sound like it does not belong). If you had not read Robin Hood or barely remember it, read it before you touch this one (or at least skim the contents of the legend) -- part of the magic is recognizing everyone from the other story. And despite the years that had passed, they are recognizable without being the same.

It seems like the second one is coming out in August :)

heinäkuu 6, 2020, 8:14pm

120. Jakarta by Rodrigo Márquez Tizano, translated by Thomas Bunstead from Spanish (Mexico)

This was one very confusing novel...

In a city which may or may not exist, a series of viruses show up every few years (sometimes they seem to disappear for a while but they always come) and when that happens, the city hides in their houses and hopes for the best and only a team of workers goes around town and onto the tunnels - the first so they can drag the dead away; the latter so they can kill the rats who carry the virus.

The time of my reading of this novel was weird - but the novel is not part of the current crop of virus-related novels - it was initially written in 2016 and the translation came out in November, 2019.

The city is not one we know but the people in it talk about cities we know about so one have to wonder about the time (and place). The viruses who decimate the city are just part of the story of ruin - the city seems to exist to gamble and a sport which you cannot identify as it is a mix of a lot of things (real and imaginary) seems to be the only thing that anyone cares about. And in a room, in the narrator's house, there is a stone which distorts reality.

Tizano uses short chapters (100+ in a 150 pages book) and long sentences (especially in the parts that may or may not be true) and flips between memories, stone-related scenes and virus-related scenes to create an almost dizzying kaleidoscope of stories which seem to be leading to finding out why the virus is always coming back and what the stone is. Until we reach chapter 100 and suddenly the chapters start having negative numbers (starting from -1 and going down -- or at least this is how they looked in the ebook) and things go from weird to weirder. I thought I knew where the novel was going until that reversal - I still think that the end is connected to the same questions and to the question of reality but it got too disjointed and weird for me.

The writing is beautiful and even if nothing makes sense, it almost hypnotizes you. And without that last part, I actually enjoyed it. Now I am not sure what really happened or why (although I can see some connections, it almost feels like an add-on to pad the number of pages...) and I just wish the novel had stopped earlier. At least we learn why the title of the novel is Jakarta (and it is partially because of the city with that name and partially not).

It is a first novel and it may appeal more to people who like modernist novels. I am not sorry I read it but it is definitely not my style.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 6, 2020, 8:45pm

121. The Disoriented by Amin Maalouf, translated by Frank Wynne from the French (Lebanon/France)

And this is why I keep picking up weird books that catch my eye in the library -- not all of them work for me but then I find gems like this one.

Adam had left his native Lebanon almost 25 years ago, fleeing a war which made his life as a Christian pretty miserable. Not that it was easy for anyone -- the Civil War was just starting and things were looking bad for everyone. And while some people chose to stay, a lot of people chose to leave all they knew and move away.

A lot happened in those 25 years - Adam became a historian, reconnected with some old friends who also fled the country, lost track of others but neither he, nor any of the others ever went home. Until the phone rang in his Paris apartment and a voice from the past called him to the sickbed of his friend Mourad. Despite Adam's rush, Mourad dies before he makes it there. So when the widow asks him to try to organize a meeting of all the old friends, the story is set in motion.

Maalouf choses to tell that story in two voices - a narrator and the diary (and letters) of Adam. We know that something is looming - the very beginning talks about something being 2 days before a disaster but we won't learn what until the very end. The first time when the diary made an appearance I almost groaned - it is an old trick to allow an author to "know" what the character thinks but as the story progresses, it becomes clear that the duality of the novel works in this as well. It is a story about the past and the future; about coming and going, about choices and memories.

And via the thoughts of Adam, the memories of everyone else and the letters Adam reads (and writes), two parallel stories emerge - one in the past, showing the start of a war that devastated a nation; the other of a now and here -- when people are still afraid to go home and where the war seems to be still raging - not on the streets, but in people's minds.

The novel is semi-autobiographical and I doubt that we will ever know which parts were real and which supplemented the reality. Just like his main character, Maalouf is a trained historian (it took me awhile to connect the name but then when I turned I saw his The Crusades Through Arab Eyes and that reminded me where I had heard his name before). And his Lebanon, the one he had to flee shows up under his pen here - both as it was and as it never was and as it never had a chance to be, with a taste of regret and sorrow. Each of the old friends had followed his path - and some of them had changed their paths more than once - a businessman turns into a monk, a man held for ransom decides to "adopt" his captors as parents . The circle of friends is a metaphor of the Lebanese society at the start of the Civil War - but even if they started as types, they are fully fledged and believable. And then the end shatters you.

And if this is not enough for one novel, you also get one of the best explanations of the bias blind spot I've read in awhile, a religions and history lesson (which sounds like everything but), a civil war 101 (from outside it is one war, inside it is a skirmish after skirmish and war after war with ever changing sides) and some of the best writing I had seen this year. The fact that the novel is 500+ pages and still feels too short (despite some middle parts that drag a bit) is a testament to a talent that I probably should have discovered much earlier.

heinäkuu 6, 2020, 8:45pm

>95 AnnieMod: Wow, noted. That sounds terrific.

heinäkuu 7, 2020, 6:27am

>95 AnnieMod: That does sound like a fantastic book. Kind of wish my library carried this many werid translated works.

heinäkuu 7, 2020, 5:45pm

>95 AnnieMod: Enjoyed your review of the Disoriented

lokakuu 10, 2020, 7:02pm

Interesting to see what Jack McDevitt is doing these days. I used to read his stuff as a reasonably easy and entertaining reads in between the more demanding stuff. That does seem a long time ago.

marraskuu 1, 2020, 8:19pm

>99 avaland:

Pretty much the same as usual - old-style SF adventures - he is reliable if you like the style although the long series rely more and more on previous events in the series - which I like but it makes it harder for newcomers.

One of those days I will get the ones I had not read and finally read them - I had been spacing them a bit... :)